New York Times Reporter Addresses Israeli Censorship On Soldier Story

08/05/2014 08:18 am ET | Updated Aug 05, 2014
ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK -- Jodi Rudoren, the Jerusalem bureau chief for The New York Times, addressed the paper’s decision Friday to withhold a biographical detail about an Israeli soldier at the Israeli military's request.

“Any censorship is a huge compromise," Rudoren wrote Monday night on Times Insider, a feature accessible to Times Premier subscribers. "In these cases, though, the actual cost to readers’ understanding was limited."

In the first-person piece, Rudoren recalled how a military censor named Udi informed her Friday that articles about Second Lt. Hadar Goldin –- originally reported as captured by Palestinian militants and later declared killed in action -- needed to be submitted for review before publication.

Rudoren said the censor's request came after confirming Goldin was related to Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, a detail she expected the government did not want made public. In deciding to withhold the detail, she wrote:

Lieutenant Goldin’s relationship to a high-ranking politician was a different kind of story. The Times, in the past, has withheld information that might jeopardize the life of a captive soldier at the request of American authorities. Editors in New York would have wanted to discuss if The Times should break news about the captured Israeli soldier’s family ties in any case, as the paper has policies in place that require careful consideration of the circumstances before we release information about hostages.

Even so, a colleague in New York did prepare an article in case we changed our journalistic calculations, or the information about the soldier was widely reported by other media outlets. Meanwhile, the international editor, Joe Kahn, and I decided that we should mention the censor’s call in our web story, for transparency. We were leaving something out of the article, and felt we needed to signal that to readers. The inserted paragraph noted the rarity of the censor’s intervention.

The acknowledgement Friday of the military’s censorship notification drew attention to the fact that foreign reporters must agree to such requests in order to receive press accreditation in Israel.

Kahn told The Huffington Post on Friday that the Times would not submit entire articles for the censor to review, which Rudoren confirmed in her piece. On Friday, Kahn said the Times did not report on a “very narrow issue” that concerned “the background of the captive soldier.” The Times reported on Goldin’s relationship to Ya’alon on Sunday after the government announced the soldier had been killed.

There was also speculation this past weekend that the Israeli military censor ordered the Times to cut a mention of the "Hannibal" directive, an operation in which Israeli soldiers can pursue a captured soldier even if it means firing in the soldier's direction and thereby risking his or her life.

Greg Mitchell, who writes on media issues, noted the reference was cut as the Times story was updated during the day. Rudoren wrote Monday that the censor did not order that reference to be cut, but also did not explain why it didn't appear in a later version of the article.

Rudoren also acknowledged Monday that the Times abides by court-imposed gag orders in Israel, an issue that Public Editor Margaret Sullivan addressed in April.

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